Actor Milo Tindle (Jude Law) arrives at successful author Andrew Wyke's (Michael Caine) Georgian country house to enquire whether Andrew will agree to divorce his wife Maggie and if not, why not, since he, Milo, has been her lover and wants to marry her. After some verbal jousting, Andrew comes up with a preposterous proposition: that Milo 'steal' the million pound's worth of jewellery in the safe, fence it, and keep the money AND Maggie. Andrew would pocket the insurance. Milo tentatively agrees, until Andrew changes the ground rules - with gun in hand - and Milo finds himself outmaneuvered. But when the next visitor arrives at the house, Andrew realizes the game has just begun in a deadly and twisted battle of wits.
Review by Louise Keller:
The two-hander, based on a play by Anthony Shaffer, is a performance showcase for both Caine and Law, although I couldn't help but feel that Harold Pinter's screenplay and Kenneth Branagh's direction would carry more weight in the theatre. Despite Branagh's every attempt to capitalise on the intimacy of the cinematic medium with (intrusive) close-ups, the direction is heavy handed; the result being a dramatic, but emotionally cold experience.
The shortest way to a man's heart is humiliation, says Michael Caine's acclaimed author to Jude Law's out-of-work actor, as their characters battle their wits against each other with relentless fury. For the prize of a beautiful woman they play a dangerous game with knife and gun, but it is their sparring words that do the most damage, piercing like live ammunition, wounding egos and pride. Switching roles from when he played Milo as a 39 year old in 1972 against Laurence Olivier, Caine paints his Andrew Wyke with a slick, world-weariness, as he toys callously with his wife's lover.
The trouble is it is difficult to believe in Pinter's dialogue. We like neither character, so there are little rewards in the melodramatic point scoring between the men. Tim Harvey's striking production design with its sterile ultra-modern art pieces and moving screens is an effective participating character as is Patrick Doyle's claustrophobic music score, which jabs and stabs throughout. As the two characters deliver physical, emotional and psychological blows to each other, the (unseen) woman over whom they are fighting becomes less and less important. In fact, everything becomes less and less important, and even at 88 minutes, this joust of words feels overlong.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Andrew is a wealthy writer of crime fiction; Milo is a poor actor. You can see writer Anthony Shaffer's delicious plotting even as you think about those factors. Shaffer, twin brother of Peter Shaffer of Amadeus fame, wrote the play, Sleuth, in 1972 and Michael Caine played the Milo role opposite Laurence Olivier in the (rather long) film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Here, Kenneth Branagh pares things down considerably, both in terms of running time and characters. He also places the action in the ultra-modern, multi-camera watched Georgian estate in the English countryside. Everything about the production is clean-lined and polished. The actors are often quite still, the environment is all sharp angles and clean lines, glass, steel and a dozen or more CCV cameras keeping a glass eye on things. The cameras serve no real plot purpose, but add to the complexity of Andrew's character as some sort of gizmo freak, forever playing with the remote that controls lights, curtains, cameras - and even the fishtank.
And while some of Branagh's vision for the film helps put the focus on the two characters and the deadly, witty, corrosive mind games they play, it still ends up a little stilted at times. The occasional lapse in attention to detail (broken glass mysteriously cleaned up, surveillance cameras manipulated by unseen hands or unknown forces) also detracts, but even so, Shaffer's clever plotting and dynamic dialogue keep us glued.
Michael Caine rips into Andrew Wyke with relish, creating a character we sem to have met or at least seen across a crowded room at some splendid arty function, where his bullish earthiness can't quite stay hidden under the polished success. Jude Law matches Caine in dexterity and a drum-tight persona whose weak spots are patched over by trickery and cunning.
It's an imperfect work, but the two great performances bulldoze the film through to its jarring, bitter end.
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CAST: Michael Caine, Jude Law, Harold Pinter
PRODUCER: Kenneth Branagh, Simon Halfon, Jude Law, Simon Moseley, Marion Pilowsky, Tom Sternberg
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh
SCRIPT: Harold Pinter (play by Anthony Shaffer)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Haris Zambarloukos
EDITOR: Neil Farrell
MUSIC: Patrick Doyle
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tim Harvey
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 6, 2008